A Journey Into Culture

Background

In our reflection(s) on culture, we identified a number of potential problems and areas of confusion when working with culture. In the film, Mary Poppins, Julie Andrews sang “Let’s start at the very beginning” and continued that the beginning is “a very good place to start”. So perhaps I should follow this advice and start by explaining my journey into organisation culture.

The study started in 1994 with three seemingly simple concepts:

  • In the field of organisation culture, culture is simply explained as “the way we do things”.
  • In the field of psychology, based on the views of Jung, people are seen to have personality preferences and if given a choice, they will create an environment that best suits their preferences.
  • In the field of leadership, various authors agree that leaders are the custodians of culture.

Reading these perspectives together raised a basic question, which was quickly followed by many others. It also started a journey of almost three decades of part-time research. The question that started it all was;

  • If culture in a system or organisation and personality of the leaders in that same system can both be measured and then compared, would the results show similarities between the culture and the personality preferences of the leaders?

This quickly raised a second question;

  • Given the broad acceptance of Jungian personality principles and assessments, could organisation culture be measured in terms of these principles?

At the time there were practitioners using individual type assessment instruments to determine an average, and even modal, personality profile and calling this the organisation cultural type. However, the fundamental principles of psychology, statistics, and considerations of power and influence, made it clear that culture could not logically be viewed as some aggregate of individual personality preferences.

In spite of extensive research, no instrument could be found that would measure organisation culture from a Jungian typology perspective, at least not one that would be accepted at a tertiary academic level. There was one instrument found that assessed educational settings but, in my mind, it did not address the complexities of organisational culture sufficiently.

And that was the start of many years researching “the way things are done” in terms of different business disciplines and then interpreting them in terms of human behaviours. However, I did not understand the enormity of the process I had started! The biggest work turned out to be;

  • turning identified behaviours into research statements,
  • compiling a questionnaire, getting/begging respondents to complete it, and
  • having the questionnaire validated independently. This eventually required three rounds of research. Anyone that attempted this will know that every validation ends with items being rejected, new ones developed and the process of data gathering basically needing to start again. The professor that did the statistical validation further stipulated that each round of testing required at least three times as many respondents as statements.

After incalculable hours of work and many twists, turns and re-do’s we had a questionnaire – the Organisation Character Type Assessment or OCTA. The instrument was finally statistically validated at a University in South Africa. It is worth noting here that only factors with correlations of greater than 0.8 are reported on.

Classifying Culture

When researching classifications of culture, three broad approaches are found;

  • Descriptors of culture in terms of generally explainable phenomena. These might be given interesting titles such as being named after mythological gods or even directions on a compass. In the process of explaining the culture, it becomes clear that this approach describes a style of functioning. It is often linked to a story that creates an atmosphere or vision of what it looks and feels like to work there. One currently popular example of this approach is a so-called performance culture.
  • The second approach is describing culture in terms of the drivers or concepts underpinning cultures. These are usually referred to as cultural factors or constructs. Here one finds concepts such as order, power distance, masculinity and many, many more.
  • The last approach is found less often, and could in a way be linked to styles, but comes from a psychological perspective. Here the focus is on identifying certain cultural archetypes that are deemed to form the basis of organisational cultures. A small sub-group within this approach defines culture in terms of organisational or group based/collective personality factors.

These three approaches are not mutually exclusive or one better than the other. The value lies in each of them describing culture in different ways that adds value and grows a broader understanding of the culture. A style describes the atmosphere to make the culture easier to understand, factors list specific areas that can be changed or developed at organisation level and the personality approach explains the invisible paradigms or drivers underpinning the culturally derived behaviours.

The Organisation Character Type Assessment or OCTA gives its user results from all three of the above perspectives.

What the OCTA measures (See also the sample report)

From a descriptive or style perspective, the questionnaire gives nine statistically validated styles, six of which are reported on. Untitled-1.gifThese six styles naturally describe opposing modes of functioning that also shows a degree of tension. An example is the style of the “Regiment” where one finds a clear order, discipline and role clarity.  Its opposing tension is the “Shell-Hole” where the structure and order become dysfunctional and people take limited to no initiative, make no suggestions and the focus is largely on “survival”.

The three styles not reported in are deemed secondary to the six primary styles, despite being statistically valid. Continuing with the example of the Regiment – Shell-hole example mentioned above, one of the three non-reported on styles is the Siberian style. When this style is found, it identifies a situation that has become so extreme that all interaction, initiative and focus beyond day-to-day activities have basically ceased. This culture could be deemed toxic from an employee perspective.

The OCTA has six validated factors five of which are reported on. These factors are key when considering organisation development or culture change. In line with Factors.gifthe fundamental principle of leaders as custodians of culture, it is not surprising that one of the factors is Leadership. The interesting aspect is that through analysis of the leadership factor, three distinct – not-yet-validated - leadership foci have been identified.  These are a collective focus, a positional focus and an individual focus by the leader.  A similar aspect was found with the order factor where we find two - not-yet-validated - different dimensions of order namely hierarchical and process based order.

The last result obtained through the OCTA is linked to the start of the whole process namType.gifely to obtain “personality” or Type constructs of organisations that could be compared to individual Jungian personality constructs. With culture existing only within group settings, I decided to work form the broad Jungian constructs of type and then to find descriptors of how that would manifest in organisational or group behaviours. A basic example is that where one finds Introversion and Extraversion with an individual, one would find a group focussing on their internal functioning or the external environment. The focus shifts somewhat from sources of energy to primary focus. These dimensions were not statistically analysed but items loading on each “preference” were identified based on five expert opinions. These experts were people with extensive experience in the understanding and use of Jungian type instruments. Question meaning or the reasons for interpretation were not discussed at all and where there was any conflict/difference of opinion about the interpretation of an item, the item was not included in this aspect of scoring.

Conclusion

In conclusion, after almost three decades of research, a unique instrument with 72 questions supplies three distinct – yet interacting - perspectives on organisation culture.

Research has highlighted not just its uses in organisation development and change, but has shown changes organisations go through during their lifecycle. It has been used as pre- and post- intervention assessment to measure the impact of interventions.

The instrument has been used in no less than 7 masters research projects. One of the studies focussed on sub-cultures found between sections within one department

Other unpublished research showed cultural differences between departments in one faculty at a University and another identified shifts between pre- and post change intervention.

To support our continued research and to see what the questionnaire looks like please complete the research version available here.

For more information on the use of the instrument with your own clients, please contact us directly